How Japan’s famous dream powder became reality, as told by Nick Hill.
I grew up on a little farm in the great state of Ohio, USA. Farming, fishing, hunting and being outside were what fueled me. As I got older, it was snowboarding and a desire to travel the world.
My senior year of high school, I recall getting a copy of Snowboarder Magazine and the cover was so impressive I cut it out and hung it on my wall. A guy named Nicolas Müller was the Rider of the Year, there was an article covering the Torino Winter Olympics to come, and a shot of Nicolas snowboarding off a building somewhere in Japan. It was a dream. A long shot idea in February of 2006.
I buried that dream deep into my identity. In college, I picked up a job at a little ski resort outside of Cleveland, I was president of the ski team, and when I graduated from The Ohio State University, I loaded my Subaru Forester to the gills and headed westward to the mountains.
From Utah to Tahoe, then to PyeongChang and back. I told myself, ”Japow by thirty”’, and after achieving my goal of writing a book and celebrating my 30th, it was time to see what all the hype was about.
I gathered a few of my close friends from the Ohio State Ski Team and convinced them to join me for a “Japanuary” vacation, followed by a flight north to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games to PyeongChang. Before the trip, I recall a friend of mine asking what my next project was going to be and I drew a blank. He smirked and told me I would find out along the way. Three days into my trip, I knew exactly where I would call home the following winter—Niseko, Japan.
Feels Like Home
日本 Japan, 北海道 Hokkaido, ニセコ Niseko: places that now mean home. Here—beneath the piles of snow, under the layers of winter clothes and hidden in the often-cryptic kanji—is a community, a family that feels familiar even though it’s foreign. Kutchan is a town rooted in farming, the Shiribetsu River flowing with richness and bringing life to the valley, Mt Niseko-Annupuri rising to one side as the iconic Mt Yotei demands attention to the other.
I see Niseko as a community of Japanese and foreigners alike, willing to welcome the world with open hands and share the joys of these great lands we call home. Similar to America, Niseko is a melting pot of cultures from around the world.
And, despite all of the assumed differences between Japan and America, I can’t help but see all of the similarities. Niseko can seem so foreign to me in one moment and yet so familiar to me the next.
Having lived a solid portion of a decade in Utah and Lake Tahoe, California—Niseko belongs in the conversation of top-shelf international ski towns. I remember getting to Utah and seeing the slogan “Best Snow on Earth” on my newly-acquired license plate. A pro skier friend of mine used to laugh and say, “’Best Snow on Earth’ … unless you take a ski trip to Japan”. At the time, I didn’t understand where he was coming from. Japan was this unattainable dream, only reachable to professionals and the ultra-wealthy.
Quite a bit has changed in the time since I thought this way. I came to a realisation—just like me, Niseko is fueled by the powder days, rich with a culture of its own and open to inviting the rest of the world to join in on the fun. If you are willing to sit down and formulate a good plan, you too could find yourself on a life-changing journey around the world to Niseko.
Back to the Future
Remember that magazine cover I put on my wall as a senior in high school? Realising I can now read a little bit of kanji, I took a closer look and found the writing on the building said ‘Hokkaido’. I asked a colleague to help me read the remainder and show me it's location on a map. He strained to read it and and then dropped a pin on the map to me. The building was roughly a mile and a half (2.4km) away from my apartment here in Niseko.
I found myself swept with emotions as I realised my snowy American dream is now my Japanese reality.
Nick Hill has been living in Niseko for almost a year and is planning for many winters to come. He loves snowboarding, mountain trekking, Buckeye football, the Cleveland Indians/Browns/Cavaliers and is the author of his self-published book, The Road to PyeongChang: A Real Guide to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
Photos by Daniel Honda and Toshi Pander of rider Evan Wilcox.
This is an excerpt of an article that first appeared in the Winter 2019/20 Edition of the Experience Niseko Magazine.